For many the introduction of a Corolla hatch would appear an odd product evolution Toyota.
The Corolla name is ordinarily associated with ultra-reliable sedan motoring, so how has it morphed into a daringly styled hatchback?
To understand the evolution of Toyota’s South African five-door passenger car business, we remember the most important hatches they have marketed since 2000.
And there were some very interesting locally developed versions, amongst those.
Replacing the immensely popular Conquest was never going to be easy, but the hatchback version of Toyota’s eight-generation Corolla proved hugely competent in this regard.
The RunX’s styling was daring for its time and although this was a car which challenged the conventional view of Toyota only having conservative products, it sacrificed nothing in terms of build quality or durability.
A measure of RunX’s engineering integrity is simple: try finding a pre-owned one in 2019, more than a decade after it was discontinued, for a sane price. Impossible.
Rare and unheralded at the time, was Toyota’s RunX 1.8 RSi, which featured a 16-valve engine, producing 141kW at dizzying 7800rpm.
Toyota South Africa even did a TRD version of the RunX RSi, building only 200 of these locally modified hot hatches – vehicles which remain extremely rare, and collectable, in 2019.
Auris replaced the RunX and is remembered for introducing turbodiesel engines and a hybrid option to Toyota’s local hatchback range. Other interesting design details were the console mounted shifter and double-decker centre-dash stowage area.
It featured much softer, more rounded, styling than RunX and although the range offered a tremendous combination of engines and gearbox options, it lacked the outright dynamic sparkle of its predecessor.
That said, Toyota did try to inject some hot hatch relevance to the South African Auris offering in 2011, by offering a locally developed TRD derivative – in the same theme as they did with RunX RSi.
This Auris TRD was an official Toyota South Africa factory project, using the Auris 1.6-litre petrol as a platform. A centrifugal supercharger kit boosted power to 132kW, supported by 202Nm of torque.
Imported TRD suspension goodies enabled a 35mm ride height reduction and improved handling dynamics. Perhaps the most notable aspect of Toyota’s first-generation Auris was the incredible economy offered by its combination relatively slippery aerodynamics, efficiency-minded gearing and understressed 2-litre diesel engines.
Toyota abandoned its organic hatchback styling language with the second-generation Auris, opting to evolve the design with a flattened, more angular rear and elongated, sharper nose section.
Efficiency was yet again the goal, with no performance option available for South African buyers. Toyota did market the second-generation Auris hybrid locally, powered by a mild 1.8-litre petrol engine, rated at 73kW, and 60kW electric motor.
Economy was incredible, with an average of 3.8 litre/100km possible at a sustained cruising speed in ideal atmospheric conditions. Beyond its sharper styling and advanced cabin digitisation, the most profound change second-generation Auris made to Toyota’s South African hatchback offering was double-wishbone rear suspension.
Whereas the first-generation Auris used a torsion beam rear axle configuration, the second-generation car benefited from a considered redesign featuring multiple links – a feature which improved bump sensitivity and high-speed stability in equal parts.